The Geography of Border Militarization: Violence, Death and Health in Mexico and the United States

Jeremy Slack, Daniel E. Martínez, Alison Elizabeth Lee, & Scott Whiteford


Despite proposed increases in spending on personnel and equipment for border enforcement, the complex geography of border militarization and the violence it produces require further examination. We take a geographical perspective to determine the role of violence in both its official forms, such as the incarceration and punishments experienced by undocumented migrants, as well as through abuses and violence perpetrated by agents in shaping border and immigration enforcement. By drawing on the Migrant Border Crossing Study (MBCS), which is a unique data source based on 1,110 surveys of a random sample of deportees, as well as research with family members and return migrants in Puebla, Mexico, we provide an innovative and robust account of the geography of violence and migration. Identifying regional variation allows us to see the priorities and strategic use of violence in certain areas as part of enforcement practice. We assert that understanding the role of violence allows us to explain the prevalence of various forms of abuse, as well as the role of abuse in border enforcement strategies, not as a side effect, but as elemental to the current militarized strategies.


In 2013, the United States Congress was locked in a contentious battle over immigration, border security, and the desire for a militarized surge to close off the border. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill (S. 744) that included nearly $30 billion in additional spending on border security and calls for 20,000 – 30,000 new U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents in addition to the 20,863 agents already employed as of FY 2014 (CBP 2015). Despite its hardline militarization, the bill has stalled in the House where more conservative politicians claim it does not go far enough. Talks of a new surge in border enforcement funding are omnipresent in Washington D.C., suggesting that a new round of increased enforcement measures is highly likely in the coming years. This proposed expansion comes on the heels of an unprecedented buildup along the border that tripled the size of the USBP between FY 2004 and 2012.

Despite the billions of dollars spent each year, how these funds as well as any proposed increases are spent in terms of the day-to-day activities of agents, specific enforcement programs, and technological interventions, have rarely been analyzed. Most scholarship on border militarization and enforcement ...

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